America's fish populations had been declining for more than a century. In 1871, Congress began to recognize the problem and took steps to encourage wildlife agencies to implement new management techniques. In 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act established excise taxes on outdoor sports equipment, with proceeds going toward wildlife enhancement. In 1950, Congress enacted the Sport Fish Restoration Act , sponsored by U.S. Representative John Dingell, Sr., of Michigan and Senator Edwin Johnson, of Colorado. The law, which became known as the "Dingell-Johnson Act," applies 10 percent manufacturer's excise tax on fishing rods, reels, creels, lures, and flies. Tax revenues are transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which in turn distributes them to the states for recreational sport fishing enhancement projects.
Each state’s share is based 60% on its number of paid licensed anglers and 40% on its land and water area. Florida receives about $13 million annually and this money supports both fresh and saltwater fisheries research and projects to improve boating opportunities. FWC receives about $3 to $4 million annually to support saltwater fish projects. 75% of the total cost for each project is provided by Sport Fish Restoration fund and 25% comes from state funds. The state funds are derived from recreational fishing license fees! Through the years, this act has provided nearly $500 million to the states for thousands of individual projects.
By 1984, these funds had become inadequate. Senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and Representative John Breaux of Louisiana sponsored the Wallop-Breaux Amendment to the Sport Fish Restoration Act, extending the tax to tackle boxes, sonar fish finders, motorboat fuels, electric motors, and other equipment not included in the earlier laws.
The Wallop-Breaux Amendment requires that 12.5 percent of all restoration money be spent on boating access to public waters and requires Florida and other coastal states to fund marine recreational fisheries projects proportionate to the ratio of freshwater to saltwater anglers.
The amendment enlarged the fund from $40 million annually in 1950 to $404.4 million in the fiscal year of 2009. Of this, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission received approximately $13 million. By 2011 this was down to less than $12 million. Of this money, 15% provides for both fresh and saltwater boating access improvement projects. From the remaining funds, freshwater fisheries programs receive around $5 million; saltwater fisheries programs receive between $3-4 million. (Annual Apportionments shows how much money Florida and other states receive)
The Florida angler has two ways to contribute to the protection of Florida's fishery resources: directly through the purchase of recreational fishing licenses and indirectly by purchasing fishing supplies and equipment covered in the Sport Fish Restoration program. Thanks to anglers, boaters, and their tax dollars, recreational sport fishing will endure.